Daily Archives: August 19, 2007

Even More Thoughts from Atlanta…Feel Good Religion

I love big cities. But I also struggle with them too. For instance, I met a guy in Atlanta who approached me and a co-worker for money while we were looking at a menu outside of a fancy restaurant. I never give people money. I will buy them lunch or a bus ticket. But I never give cash. The guy didn’t look right. Although he didn’t smell of alcohol, I wondered if he was on drugs based on his eyes. He talked a good game. The man said he was homeless and gave a litany of reasons why he couldn’t get a job.

My co-worker gave the man some money. I didn’t. This jump started a lengthy discussion at dinner about helping the poor. At other times in the past, I have helped homeless people buy groceries or bought them dinner. I didn’t help the man this time because of the situation.

My co-worker and I talked about our motivation in giving. Sometimes we give to make ourselves feel better. Sometimes we give to get people to leave us alone. Sometimes we give because that is what a good person is supposed to do. Sometimes people give because we think that is what God would have us do. I told my co-worker that I try to sense in the moment what is right and do that. Then, I go on without making apologies for it.

Given the situation, I would do the same thing again. I still believe that giving money in most circumstances is not a good move. Many of the people on the street don’t need the things they are likely to spend the money on, such as drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. If I was not on a business trip, I might have offered to take the gentleman into the food court for dinner. Christians should show Christ’s love to the poor and the homeless. But that doesn’t mean that we have to help everyone who might ask for it.

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More Thoughts from Atlanta

Here’s more thoughts and insights from my trip to Atlanta in late June.

While visiting with a friend who works as a youth pastor in Atlanta, I was surprised to learn that many of the leaders in his church are probably not Christians in the traditional sense. They may believe in God and like Jesus. But the Bible is not the guiding source of their faith. Evidently, this denomination does not require elders, deacons and other key leaders to sign a confession of faith or meet any criteria other than being elected by the congregation. Most of these positions rotate and are not long-term. I learned about this when my friend said, “No not all the elders are Christians.”

I found this hard to believe given the Apostle Paul’s admonition, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands.” By this Paul was talking about the practice of laying hands on people who are appointed to leadership in the early churches. It is good to have a fellowship that equips the average person to lead. But it is bad if a church elevates any body to leadership just because people like them or it is their turn.

Then our conversation switched to the question that all youth worker asks, “How do we get students to become passionate about Jesus?”

I have to confess that sometimes I feel that I know the answer. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a clue. It starts with modeling out authentic faith. Programs, mission trips, good teaching, spiritual disciplines, all of those things can help. But that is not enough. Eventually, students must decide to take the plunge for themselves.  

Students need legitimate encounters with God. At the same time, you don’t want their faith to be based on experiences, which can change. Faith has to move beyond the visibility reality or is it ever really faith?

While we discussed the struggle to transfer our faith to others, we turned to Ephesians 4.

Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

As Ephesians points out, many students are confused. They live for lustful pleasure. Scripture makes it clear that Jesus is the source of truth. You have to introduce your students to Jesus for them to get what it means to be a Christian. If your ministry has no punch or lasting effect, maybe it needs more Jesus. Lastly, this passage shows that we have to actively put on the new nature, which starts by letting the Holy Spirit renew our minds to think more like Jesus. Being a Christian is a choice, and you have to stick with it every day.